Along with the NRL's team lists being named came some shock omissions with more than $15 million in talent set to not suit up for the final regular season games.
Round 25 often serves as one of the more exciting in the regular season. Fates are decided. Coaches and players have the ability to save or lose their jobs. The ramifications of this final round are typically plentiful.
While this remains the case, maybe even more so now, the desperation so many fans will be feeling as they sit on the edges of their couch, barking orders at their favourite players, with a finals berth well within their grasp, this weekend will likely be overshadowed by the large crop of superstars deciding to 'load-manage' ahead of the finals next week.
Time to find out which stars have been rested ahead of #NRLFinals 👀
— NRL (@NRL) August 31, 2021
A contentious topic that only seemed to puncture the zeitgeist of rugby league punditry last season, where teams guaranteed a finals spot took a similar approach. NRL teams missed out on byes due to the impacts of Covid-19, and this issue has been heard and addressed in many leagues both in Australia and overseas in recent years.
The AFL in 2016 introduced a bye between the regular season and finals because of similar issues. The NBA also implemented a resting policy in 2017 which ensures teams can't rest multiple healthy players for the same game and when they do it needs to be in home games.
The debate still remains topical within the NBA, with star players like Los Angles Clippers' Kawhi Leonard and the Los Angles Lakers' Lebron James frequently utilising 'load-management' throughout the season to prepare their bodies for the post-season.
Leonard, formerly of the San-Antonio Spurs, has been at the centre of 'load-management' debates throughout most of his career. During his tenure at the Spurs, Leonard, and then coach Greg Popovich, would consistently find new approaches to manoeuvre around league 'resting' policies to ensure the star-forward was healthy for the finals.
As this notion of 'load-management' creeps its way into the ethos of rugby league, the discussion has ultimately centred around the underlying and long-time implications of allowing healthy players to rest becoming the norm.
Some have argued that during non-coronavirus ramped times, the omission of a 'healthy' star player is disingenuous to the thousands of fans that pour into stadiums each week just to get a glimpse of their teams favourite player.
Others have said this new trend puts into question the players' passion for the game, offending mainly just the die-hard purists of the sport.
Understandably, SuperCoach players who are in grand finals are also a little ticked off about some of their top point-scorers sitting on the sidelines.
With all this said, the sentiment is overwhelmingly for players and teams having the ability to sit, or not, during the final round of the season.
According to a News Corp poll, only 45 per cent of fans said the NRL should take some sort of action to stop clubs resting their stars.
ARL chairman Peter V'landys came out this week and insisted the league has no intention of implementing changes to restrict players and teams' decisions.
“That’s the coach’s prerogative,” ARL chairman Peter V’landys said.
“They know their players. We are not going to tell them how to coach. You can’t mandate telling coaches how they should coach.
“We respect that. Their aim is to win a competition. It’s hard to argue against.”
Fox Sports' executive director Steve Crawley agrees with V'landys' comments about teams seeing the bigger picture and planning ahead.
“If I’m Bart Cummings and I’m getting a horse ready for the Sydney Cup and I decide not to race him the previous weekend, so be it,” Crawley said. “I want the first prize.”
Some of the superstars rested or named outside the top 17 for their respective teams include Clint Gutherson, Cameron Munster, Adam Reynolds, Damien Cook, Cody Walker, Mitchell Moses, Dane Gagai, Nathan Brown, Dylan Brown and Alex Johnston.
The repercussions of these sittings that fans should keep an eye out for include:
- The Sharks positioned for an easier run to the finals with opponents the Storm, who are likely guaranteed no less than a top-two finish, resting many of their stars. This also makes the journey's for top-eight hopefuls the Raiders and the Titans a little more difficult.
- The Eels all but conceding their chances at a top-four finish, who will be putting out a Mitchell Moses and Clint Gutherson-less squad against a full-strength Panthers, who are looking to repeat as minor premiers.
- Cody Walker significantly reducing his chances at snagging the Dally M Medal, with contenders Nathan Cleary and Tom Trbojevic named to play.
- Emerging talent getting a chance to showcase in what are critical games for many of their teams. For the battled Rabbitohs this includes the trio of Blake Taaffe, Lachlan Ilias and Peter Mamouzelos.
Signals from the league, and the attitude being carried by many commentators, are players have been visibly more fatigued over the past two seasons. Dealing with Covid-19 impacted schedules, restrictions on training/practising facilities for many of the teams and an overall sense of unpredictability - the kryptonite to any professional athlete's regiment - has awarded the clubs' resting of stars a pass.
As we hopefully transition to a much more normal NRL season schedule in the coming years, if this trend persists, do you think the league's overseers will intervene?